Technically Speaking by Jen Mierisch

Will and Jason bet each other they can't spend a whole day without looking at a screen, in Jen Mierisch's cute comedy.

It had sounded like a great idea after three mojitos.

Liz was bartending that night. "Jason's driving, right, Will?" she asked me, taking a break from slicing lemons to press a glass of water into my hand.

"This guy," I told Liz, my arm around Jason, "this guy did laps around the living room last night. Just to get to 10,000 steps before bed!"

"What? I like to stay in shape," Jason said.

"Obviously," said Liz, winking at me.

"He's obsessed with his Fitbit. And his phone," I carried on, buoyed by an alcoholic wave of truth. "He's on it twenty-four seven."

"So? I'm a gadget guy."

"My gadget guy," I said, planting a smooch on his stubbly cheek.

"You're drunk, Will," said Jason, smiling.

"Seriously, though," I plowed on, "I bet you couldn't go one day without looking at a screen."

"Good lord, why would you want to?" said Liz, wiping her hands on a rag.

"I could go a whole day," insisted Jason, sipping his rum and Coke. "I'm not, like, addicted to screens."

"You'd shrivel up and die."

"What about you?" he countered. "You're always on your phone, too. Or your laptop. You wouldn't last half a day."

"A challenge!" I bellowed. "One entire day, no screens. Tomorrow. Winner picks our next vacation. Loser pays."

"Oh, it's on," said Jason, a gleam in his eye. "What if it's a tie?"

"Then we do it again, for two days."

Liz cackled. "I give you both two hours."

I heaved my eyelids open and saw Jason pulling on his running shorts. Sunlight streamed past the open curtains. Our cat Molly jumped onto the bed, purring. I petted her with one hand and rubbed my temples with the other. "Morning," I mumbled. "Where's my phone..."

"Giving up already?" asked Jason.

"Oh... right."

"No screens. Eight am to eight pm. Only incoming calls allowed. Oh, and also? You're going down." Jason cocked his head and grinned. "I'm thinking... somewhere tropical."

"You wish!" I threw back the covers.

Lake Michigan gleamed as we jogged along our usual path. Jason asked, "What time was your mom coming over today?"


"Crap. No FitBit... what time is it?"

"Hang on." I jogged toward a pair of twenty-something women who stood stretching by the side of the path. "Excuse me, ladies, do you have the time?"

"Do I have... what?" she said, squinting at me. "A dime?"

"The time." I pointed at my bare wrist.

"Oh." She glanced at her Apple Watch. "Nine fifteen."

I could hear them giggling as I trotted away. "'Do you have the time?' What is this, the Seventies?"

We jogged home and showered. "Damn," I said. "I was going to make Alton Brown's biscuits, but I can't go online for the recipe."

"Don't we have a cookbook somewhere?"

I searched the pantry until I found an ancient, oil-stained Fannie Farmer book stuffed behind the waffle maker.

From the living room, Jason shouted, "Molly is being so adorable right now and I can't take a picture!"

I smirked. "You won't last past noon."

"I think it's wonderful, what you're doing," Mom said, tucking into her brunch. "People nowadays spend too much time looking at screens. It's unhealthy. Jason, did you make this sausage gravy? Delicious. Will, marry him already."

Jason beamed. "Will's going to propose when he takes me on vacation." I swatted him with a kitchen towel.

"Is that your old boom box?" Mom cocked her head at the silver-and-black behemoth occupying half of our sideboard.

"Yeah," I said. "I dug it out of the closet so we could listen to the radio. All our other music players have screens."

"I remember this song!" Jason said. "From the nineties, right? What's it called again..." He blinked innocently at me. "Will, can you Shazam it for me?"

"Nice try, babe," I said.

Mom chuckled. "Don't forget, Will, your niece's sixth birthday party is next weekend," she said. "Evie's looking forward to seeing you."

"Right," I said. "Gotta get a gift. I'll just go on -"

"Amazon?" asked Jason.

"Damn," I said.

"So, what are you doing with yourselves this afternoon, boys?"

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. Calling a friend? Nope. Playing video games? Nixed. Scrolling Instagram? Not happening. Usually I'd sit and watch cable news for a while.

"Mom, do they still sell newspapers?"

"What are we doing this afternoon?" I asked Jason after Mom left.

"How about the Art Institute?" he suggested. "Weren't you telling me you wanted to catch that new exhibit?"

"Oh yeah! Except... I forget how to get there. Will you go on Google Maps real quick and look it up?"

"Ha, ha. Very cute." Jason pinched my cheek, grandma-style.

"Seriously though," I said. "We'd have to get driving directions. Which requires a phone."

"It's on Michigan Ave, Will. No way am I trying to find parking in that neighborhood without SpotHero."

"Guess we're taking the L."

The red line train bounced and squeaked as it hurtled downtown. We looked out the window and watched the buildings get taller. A pigeon flapped toward the train and braked with frantic wingbeats just before it smacked the plexiglass.

"Uh, Will... which stop is it?"

"I don't know. I thought you knew."

"I haven't worked downtown in six years, sweetie."

We squinted at the route map plastered above the door.

"It's by the park, isn't it? Roosevelt looks like the right stop," I guessed.

"Roosevelt was not the right stop," I said, as we trudged the twelve blocks back to the museum.

"No shit, Will. Thanks for making me walk all these steps that I can't even count!"

"For chrissake, Jason, mankind survived thousands of years without step counters. I'm sure you'll make it through twelve hours."

Monet's muted hues soothed our bickering as we strolled the galleries. We smiled at the costumed characters in Toulouse-Lautrec's Montmartre, bathed in the indigo of Chagall's stained glass, and leered at the lurid Picture of Dorian Gray.

By the time we walked into the gift shop, hand in hand, we'd almost forgotten about screens. "Evie would like this," I said, picking up a Ferris Wheel Lego set, doing a double take at the price sticker, and buying it anyway.

The train car trundled along the tracks toward home. It seemed loud, even for hundred-year-old rail machinery. That's when I noticed the dark and menacing sky. An ominous thunderclap rattled the windows.

The cloud-mass erupted like a mobile waterfall just as we exited the station. We took off running, but in ten seconds we were drenched to the skin. "Dammit," said Jason, pinching his soaked blue shirt away from his chest.

"What the hell. It was sunny when we left!" I yelled, hunching over, trying absurdly to block the rain with an arm.

"This is your fault, Will," shouted Jason, swiping at the hair plastered to his forehead, blinking away the drops. "The whole damn contest was your idea!"

"Me? You were up early this morning, before we started the contest. You could have checked the forecast!"

I sprinted after Jason, clutching Evie's present, grateful that the gift shop hadn't gone green and still used plastic bags.

The late afternoon dragged. We found a deck of cards in the coffee table drawer. Then we couldn't remember how to play any games without looking up the rules on the internet.

I found a gift box and stuffed the Lego set into it, grumbling. "Would have cost half as much online." On the carpet next to me, Molly nudged her whiskered nose into the empty bag.

Jason sat on the couch, picking out notes on his guitar. "I'm so rusty! I forgot everything but basic chords."

"I miss Facebook," I confessed.

"I miss news," he said. "Literally the world could be burning right now and we'd have no clue."

"Screw the world," I said. "I just want to make it to eight o'clock."

"This is like that reality TV show, Colonial House."

"At least we're not churning butter all day."

"How did people kill time before computers?" Jason griped. "You're older, Will. What did you do as a kid?"

"Played Super Nintendo."

"Well, that's helpful." Jason set the guitar down and left the room. I heard the bathroom door click shut.

"Will?" he called through the door, several minutes later.


"I can't do this without a phone!"

"Can't do what?"

"Don't make me say it."

"What?" I was laughing now.

"Can you bring me a book?"

After dinner, leaning against fluffy pillows on the bed and resting my sore feet, I realized I wouldn't know when 8:00 arrived unless I got up and went back to the kitchen to look at the microwave. Then I remembered my watch, a gift from Dad before he passed away, that I hadn't worn in ages. I leaned over to my nightstand drawer and pulled the watch out.

Delighted, I saw that it was 8:02. "Finally!" Like a junkie reaching for a needle, I grabbed for my laptop and flipped it open.

Jason walked in. "Yes! Victory is mine!" he cried, punching the air triumphantly.

"What are you talking about? It's after eight."

"Microwave says 7:54!" he exclaimed.

I looked at my watch, at its frozen second hand, at its face that had probably read 8:02 for the past five years.

"Technology for the win!" Jason whooped. "Tahiti, here we come!"

"Six minutes," I grumbled. "Six. Minutes." Sighing, I opened a browser tab for Travelocity.

Jason stood next to the bed, put his arms around me, and rested his chin on my shoulder. "Will?"

"Yeah," I grunted.

"I promise not to count my steps while we're taking romantic walks along the beach."

I smiled a little.

"But let's not go during rainy season."

"Probably a good plan."

"Hey, you know what," he said. "We survived a whole day together with no screens."

"Yeah," I said. "We did."

"Turns out you're pretty good company."

"Glad you think so, 'cause it's a long flight to Tahiti."

"It's a trans-pacific flight, Will. The airplane will have wi-fi."

I snorted. "It damn well better."


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  2. These covid days, you can't even go to the art gallery, like these lucky folk. Zoom is essential for visiting others, and without computers, no grocery store orders. Jason had to relearn guitar...and indeed I share the agony of Facebook withdrawal...trying to quit.

  3. Light-hearted and terrifyingly accurate...we rely on our devices for so many things we don't even think about until we need them.